February 27, 2015 3:40 pm

Got ADHD? You’re twice as likely to die prematurely, study warns

New research links ADHD with premature death.

Cate Gillon/Getty Images

New research is suggesting that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are twice as likely to die young, because of “unnatural causes” like accidents and car crashes.

The Danish research is the first of its kind: previous research warned of links between ADHD and substance abuse and other disorders and scientists have already pointed to a lower life expectancy in people with ADHD.

But the latest findings come from a decades-long study that followed the lives and, in some cases, untimely deaths of people living with the disorder.

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Doctors out of Aarhus University followed nearly 2 million people out of a Danish national registry – more than 32,000 people had ADHD. Members of the group were followed from their first birthday to 2013, or a maximum of about 32 years.

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In a follow-up, 107 people with ADHD had died. Those living with ADHD were about twice as likely to die prematurely as their counterparts without the disorder. This was the case even after adjusting for factors, such as age, sex, family history of psychiatric disorders.

While 107 people with ADHD died, the scientists were only able to confirm the causes of death in almost 80 cases. Fifty-four people died from “unnatural causes” with 78 per cent of those being accidents.

The older you were at diagnosis, the higher your risk of dying prematurely: those who were diagnosed at 18 or older were more than four times as likely to die early compared to those without ADHD at the same age.

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If you were diagnosed at age 6, however, your risk of dying was at around double compared to healthy counterparts.

Overall, women and girls with ADHD encountered a higher risk of premature death compared to men and boys.

“It’s not surprising. It corresponds to impulsivity,” lead researcher, Dr. Soren Dalsgaard, told NBC News.

“ADHD is often debated and criticized, but our study points to the fact that it’s not something to be taken lightly. I hope this will contribute to the other overwhelming evidence that this is a true disease,” he said.

Ideally, people with ADHD would be diagnosed earlier so that intervention and treatment is available to them sooner, he suggested.

The news agency interviewed people living with ADHD who had near-death experiences.

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One Los Angeles resident recalled losing control while driving – he was distracted while eating at the wheel.

“I took a bite and the next thing you know – boom – I drilled the back end of a car, and my head was stuck in the windshield,” Bronkar Lee told NBC News.

Dalsgaard said it’s still unclear why this link existed in his study, but that violence, crime and antisocial behaviour could be at play. Previous research tied ADHD to drug abuse and risky behaviour.

The findings shouldn’t cause alarm, the researchers say. For starters, the observational study was conducted only in Denmark, so the results may not translate the same way in other countries where ADHD is diagnosed and treated in different ways.

And while there is an increased risk of death in this group, “the absolute risk is low.”

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“Although talk of premature death will worry parents and patients, they can seek solace in the knowledge that the absolute risk for premature death is low and that this and other risks can be greatly reduced with evidence-based treatments for the disorder,” Dr. Stephen Faraone wrote in a commentary accompanying the study.

The findings from the Danish researchers were published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. The full study can be read here.


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